Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A Lot Of Spitballs

There is a difference, Gerry Caplan writes, between a mere Member of Parliament and a Great Parliamentarian. Great Parliamentarians respect the institution. Members of Parliament are like the kid who hides a straw in his desk and uses it to shoot spitballs at his classmates.

In the last parliament, the two biggest spitballers were Pierre Poilievre and Paul Calandra,

who made a mockery of the House of Commons and their jobs on a daily basis. The first never compromised an inch, however extensive the oppositon. The other invaraibaly failed to answer the question he was asked. Yes, they had been MPs, elected as such. But they chose not to be parliamentarians. In the end, almost the entire Conservative caucus were afflicted by those two hazardous superviruses – Calandrism and Poilievritis – fatal for the spirit of parliamentary democracy, and eventually for the entire Harper government.

Caplan says it's easy to spot a great parliamentarian. If you wish to become one, there are certain things you must do and not do. First there's the matter of heckling:

There’s nothing the matter with heckling, as long as it’s relevant, witty, pointed and occasional. Dogs bark. Owls hoot. Two-year olds scream. Parliamentarians are none of the above, though too many MPs make you wonder. Remember Bambi’s wise father in the classic Disney cartoon? Say nothing if you have nothing to say. After last week’s session of Parliament, I guess the Conservative opposition has still not seen the film.

There are two other foretokens of a great  parliamentarian:

1. Do not give your leader an enthusiastic, smirky standing ovation every time she or he puts three sentences together. You look dishonest, sucky and dumb. It just shows you have another agenda. Standing Os are for special performances, which do not come along very often. Don’t debase the currency.

2. Never read your question; it makes you look like an amateur. If you can’t ask a 60-second question without looking at notes you should become a dentist.

Ask a serious question every time; there will never be a shortage of them. Don’t ever ask a minister to “do the right thing;” that’s just sophomoric. Don’t ever ask a minister to resign; they won’t, showing you are not serious about the question. Curb your feigned indignation. Ask a real question that demands a serious, substantive answer, one that embarrasses the minister if she fails to provide one.

Treat the minister you’re addressing as a serious person who wants to do his job properly and is open to constructive questioning. If it proves otherwise, the minister looks bad, not the questioner.

And, finally, if a parliamentarian finds him or herself on a three person panel for television:

Try to have a serious debate with your fellow panelists on a serious issue.

Merely repeating talking points is not debating. The image of Paul Dewar trying to have a serious debate with Calandra -- and giving up in despair -- should be etched in the mind of every Canadian.

Parliament is supposed to be a place where serious issues are debated. We have seen little debate over the last ten years. But we've seen a lot of spitballs.



Rural said...

We can only hope, Owen, that those immature kids that have not been kicked out of class grow up and that the new kids do not emulate those disruptive ones left. I hope the 'headmaster' comes down hard on those who do not respect the rules, unfortunately all he do do is suspend them for a day if they misbehave!

the salamander said...

.. good gawd Owen .. you're not ploughing 'in the field of opportunity' !! Turn your team of stout horses, you've found a shallow zombie graveyard !! There is no opportunity, only oblivion.. and the horses will panic and bolt anyway at the stench.

Seeking rationale or responsibility in the decaying bloated & blighted carcass of The Harper Government is a fool's game best left to pundits pricks partisans & parasites seeking new hosts or saviors .. I think the Navajo got it right.. either 'Walk in Beauty' or let 'skinwalkers' enter and ruin your life.. I'm sure our First Nations hold to similar legend.. and wisely keep them out there.. away from healthy and productive peoples

The Mound of Sound said...

Ah yes but what of the Brat Pack who so relentlessly hounded Mulroney in the dark days of his super-majority? I'm not sure they lived up to Caplan's expectations.

Lorne said...

I think, for the reasons outlined in your post, Owen, that it will be very difficult for Trudeau to elevate the tone and substance of QP. Bad habits are entrenched, and while the electoral dismissal of Calandra was a good start, there are far too many braying donkeys left in the House.

Owen Gray said...

Caplan writes, Lorne, that the first week back suggests no lessons have been learned.

lungta said...

i don't expect a group of conservatives
that recently feel that they were robbed of governance by a fluke of voting
after ten years of disrespecting the institution over and over
to give anything more than the lip service already demonstrated
to the polite running of parliament
constructive discourse left the building with the "progressive" in their name
school yard taunts and behavior will prevail
it is just no longer in their nature whatever changed claims they make
if political parties were outlawed
and independent representatives were installed to represent districts
then the endless gang wars would cease
until then expect more buffoonery
to impress the voters i guess

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Mound. The frat house culture has been around for a long time. My friend in Ottawa says you have to go back to Trudeau, Stanfield and Lewis to find great parliamentarians.

Owen Gray said...

Sometimes there is nothing more powerful than alliteration, salamander. Well said.

Owen Gray said...

Perhaps the public will rise and shout "Shame!" We live in hope, Rural.

Owen Gray said...

That appears to be what is happening in the Senate, lungta. We'll see if that works any better.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

The reform/alliance/Cons. Owen, whole MO is to try to ridicule, undermine and degrade the Liberals with their ridiculous rhetoric. Asking serious questions and illiciting serious answers during question period is contrary to the Cons. strategy in the House to attack,attack,attack.There has never before been a more talentless, intellectually shallow group as these Con MPs. The worst part about it is the Cons. really think their an opposition who asks substantial questions, who is really making the government accountable.I guess no longer given the questions they should ask from the PMO, they are left to their own devices.
As we can see, they are better at obedience then thinking for themselves. They are like the kid in high school who sat in the back of the class, arms folded smirking at everything the teacher said.Throwing spit balls is a good analogy.

Owen Gray said...

They were found in contempt of parliament two elections ago, Pam. Nothing has changed.